The Northern California Heartbeat is a place for men to tell their stories,
share their works, their experiences, and keep the community up-to-date.
— In this Issue —
- The Greeting
- Interview with Ruben Rosas; Nor Cal Intercultural Advocate
- The Culture of the Right to be Offended
- Alternative IGroup Outing
- Rites of Passage
- An Offering
- Bill Zabor; Our New IGroup Coordinator
- New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) Enrollment; Next Man
- My Nervous Breakdown
- Be a Member
NorCal Brothers – As I write this Greeting, Juneteenth has been made a national holiday recognizing the end of slavery in the U.S., California has dropped mask requirements, we have in-person events happening across the Area, and men are living their mission. The wind is finally at our backs and we are heading where we need to go.
In April, I likened the experience of COVID time to being a ship stuck in the windless doldrums. It is now June 2021, and things are finally opening up, and as with the work of inner healing, we will have both the growth and joys of opening up, and the pain of wounds, contractions, and reactions. As it is inside each of us, so it is in the world. So it is with Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a holiday to reflect on the emancipation of enslaved people in the US, a changing of racist laws, and the suffering that has come with this part of who we are. As with wounds to our bodies, we cannot wish them away, the best we can do is strive to heal. And heal others. So it is. I attempt to hold these truths, my truths, and how I can be part of the healing. I am grateful for our brotherhood’s powerful ability to hold space for healing.
So let’s do a little healing as this issue of the Heartbeat holds space for you! Here we create sacred community space through written word. You will hear from our new IGroup Coordinator, Bill Zabor, whose passion is just what we need as we begin to meet in-person again, and build our communities. There’s an interview with our Intercultural Advocate, Ruben Rosas, who’s heart is a mile wide, and who’s warrior energy is heard in circles from NorCal to Australia. Feel your presence as you are seen by our Elder Councilman, Kurt Reinkins, and drop into feeling your inner world in the poetry of Josh Lowe, our resident storyteller and new web-guy. And there’s more…
How about camping at Morrow beach with the SLO community – five weekends between September and December are available – contact Reuel Czach – author of the piece here, “Not Taking Offense.” Read Frederick Marx’s (of Warrior Films) book excerpt, and a piece on a nervous breakdown, by Tom Lorish, also of SLO.
May this issue of the Heartbeat heal you, just a bit, as it takes you to sacred spaces with men from your community.
Kelly Doughty, Nor Cal Area Steward; email@example.com
Editor’s Note: At this time of increased awareness and action regarding intercultural issues, MKP Nor Cal is blessed to have Ruben Rosas and other men providing their insights and leadership.
Sam Ladion: Can you share something about yourself and how you got involved with MKP?
Ruben Rosas: I grew up in a small town in Healdsberg and enjoyed riding bikes, playing in the river. Teen years I got involved in rollerblading and traveled to many skate parks all over CA. I hang out a lot with my buddies and connection was through alcohol and smoking. At 19, I had the chance to travel to Australia and enjoyed a carefree life for about three months. I came back home, had a girlfriend and moved from one job to another. I also worked in the wine industry and enjoyed meeting people from all over the world. It opened doors for me to visit New Zealand, South Africa, Australia (many times), Mexico, Indonesia. During my mid-30s I met an Australian woman who became my girlfriend. We traveled to Australia and back to the US a lot. At this time my girlfriend was doing her own journey and found Mankind Project. To please her, I showed up at an open circle and notice white older men in the group. The closest to my age was probably 8-10 yrs. apart. My initial response was, “what am I doing here?” But since I didn’t have male role models growing up, I kept coming. I researched about the new warrior training adventure weekend. That was July 2017, an Urban NWTA in downtown Oakland. I really didn’t fully comprehend the whole experience after it was over. My relationship with my girlfriend was starting to get rocky and I decided to move back with her to Australia as her visa expired. I connected with IGroup circles in Goldcoast and up to this day, developed deep connection with two brothers. They invited to join and staff a weekend and that pretty much transformed my understanding of an NWTA, much more of what it means to go within. I was totally into the process and succeeding events after the weekend. Due to financial constraints, I decided to fly back home to the US and sat with the Sonoma Heretics IGroup. My journey led me to more deeper experiences as I signed up for other trainings, e.g., IGFT and Issues & Isms (twice). The I&I made me look within as I found a need to connect with my authentic self. I later joined a planning committee for the 2019 Urban NWTA weekend but felt very disappointed that it was canceled due to the pandemic. Now that I’m involved with warriors of color United (wocu) and the race and racism calls, I’m noticing how I experience deeper connections with men who look like me, who share similar experiences of being “the other” without judgments. The nonverbal feeling of they’ve got my back and I know I’ve got theirs as well. I felt heart space, community. It’s hard to describe in words but more of a deep feeling of connection.
SL: Why is it important for white-identified men to sit in race and racism calls?
RR: I feel white-identified men are given an opportunity to open not only their minds but their eyes, ears, and hearts. It is a chance to hear what many men of color go through in life that they may or may not resonate with.
SL: Share with us your hopes and dreams of a Mexican/Latino Community in NorCal?
RR: I feel that having spaces like these provide opportunities for deeper connections and strength. Men who I share similar skin color, men who speak the same language, similar cultural backgrounds. Connection is not only through words but also through shared nonverbal energies of safety and comfort. It also is a learning place to identify tools how to bring about ancestral healing out to the world. I don’t have to explain why a cop pulled me over or why I didn’t get served in a restaurant.
SL: Last thoughts?
RR: It is not my intention to have groups of separation within the NorCal community, but rather to create open connections with MEN of similarities. I feel sub-groups allow spaces to create building blocks with safety, trust, and with the intention to understand MKP language. Processes and communication from a culturally sensitive lens invites connection, which we would then bring this essence and more heart-centered MEN back to the wider MKP population.
The Culture of the Right to be Offended
In my life, I have become offended by family members, neighbors, bosses, rival sports fans, members of other political parties, government entities like police or planning departments, the military-industrial complex, people in power, and many others. I helped create distrust, hatred, and bullying and a few years ago I decided to stop. I found that I did not like myself when I was offended or like all the time I wasted being offended. When I made the decision to stop being offended, my life changed at least 100% for the better.
I have found that I have the choice to make an offense last the rest of my life or I can let it go at some point in time. An offense can use up my time and energy, such as when I spend time imagining how I can deal with an offense in a way to show the offender how wrong they were. I can make it a mission to address offending behaviors or actions. I can become a kind of neighborhood or community policeman in my effort to root out these behaviors. I used to write “Letters to the Editor” and I would have thrived in online neighborhood forums like “Next Door.”
I am still tempted to consider getting offended with neighbors who seem to do selfish things and then I remember how much better my life is without those hassles. When I was offended I would make up different stories about why my neighbors did the things they did. I would be hyper-aware of their comings and goings while running these fantasy stories through my brain. With all my experience of choosing to be offended by others, I have come up with some observations that seem to be common patterns.
Some offenses are popular where most people will agree that the behavior is not acceptable, yet many are not offended by it. Some popular offenses are seen as offenses to about a third or half of a population and are often seen caused by about a third or half of the rest of the population, as can be the case with some political issues or beliefs. Some offenses are very personal, such as a perceived snub by a neighbor, supervisor or boss, or by a clerk or shopkeeper.
Some offenses get passed down to the next generation or even generations, where a mother or father may pass an offended way of looking at the world onto their children. Some offenses are adopted by a nation, as is the case in some countries where the neighboring country’s people are seen as offensive for some perceived past behavior, often many generations back.
Some offenses are directed at large bodies of people such as those from a certain nationality or race, a corporation, a government entity, a government, those of a political party, even those who are fans of a rival sports team. The right to claim these offenses has seemed to become ingrained in American culture even though the offended person may have never had a personal encounter with someone who can speak for that group or entity or is personally involved in the decisions of that entity or group.
The “right” to become offended has seemed to have taken on a popular sacred right in America similar to the right to certain freedoms or the right to vote. My experience is that this has not made our country any more friendly, kind, or trusting. Perhaps just the opposite, it seems to have created more opportunities for distrust, hatred, and bullying. It seems to have become a shorter step in today’s world, especially for men, to go from being offended by someone to picking out a weapon and creating violence because of strong emotions about a perceived offense.
I like myself more and I spend more time doing the things that I really like to do now that I don’t spend my time being offended. Since I now know to stay away from people who are caught up in getting offended, I have more trust, more peace, and a better life. As I look back, I wonder why this choice to not be offended isn’t talked about, taught, or offered as an option in our culture. I know that Jesus said we should not become offended even by our enemies, yet I haven’t seen many Christians make this choice. I know that my world has become much friendlier and I feel more at home since I made this choice.
Reuel Czach, Noble Servant
Alternative IGroup Outing
I’m writing this to give an example of what can be done with an IGroup besides the standard weekly meeting, as you feel comfortable meeting in person again.
I belong to two IGroups, one being a small Sunday open IGroup I formed with MKP brother Scott Larson. The group includes two other men, Dirk Wahanik and Andy Clark, both uninitiated at this time. Over the course of time, we have chosen a few occasions to meet for a hike instead of our usual in-person meeting or lately, Zoom call. Although deep Magician work wasn’t done, we still brought in elements of the various IGroup rounds. We began talking about doing a pilgrimage, something small to start with which might lead to something bigger at a future date. Scott also had the idea of doing work around the feelings of abandonment and loss, and thought it would be ideal to do this in a dark, slightly uncomfortable place. We then merged the two ideas that became our latest outing.
In searching for a place, Scott found the Donner Pass Tunnels trail and we decided that would be perfect, being not too far but just far enough to need planning and intention to pull it off to create the pilgrimage feeling. To get an early start we decided it was best to sleepover and was lucky to rent the cabin in Donner Pass of another MKP brother, Bill Davies. Scott came up with the basic structure of the four rounds and where they would take place and I helped him fine-tune it. We finally decided instead of facilitating each other, that we’d let the darkness and mystery of the tunnels be the facilitator so to speak and then we’d share what came up for us. Also, each man was assigned as King for one of the rounds.
Our homework prior to the outing was to first write out the calling of each direction from what each direction meant to us personally. The second piece was to note what we’d work on letting go of and what we hoped to step into by the end of the outing.
Our initial check-in came on the drive up to the cabin. The energy and mood were light and joyful, everyone glad to meet in person, also the first time the four of us had been together as a group as Andy joined during COVID time and lives in Sacramento. After dropping off our stuff we headed into Truckee for dinner and to finalize logistics for the next morning. It was agreed upon that once meditation started the next morning, we’d keep the talk to what was coming up for us or important logistic info, but no small talk.
We woke early, had a quick breakfast, then Dirk led us in a meditation to ground us in presence and set the intentions of the day. Bundled up in 34-degree weather, we drove to the trailhead. Before entering, we found a spot away from cars to call in the directions, using what we wrote before the trip. I started the group, each reading in turn from their personalized directions. We also called in two indigenous groups that had lived on the land.
There were four tunnels, and each had its own feeling and personality. All the internal walls were covered with graffiti, some of it artistic and other that was pretty juvenile. Some had icy floors or were wet from melted snow. All of this added to the challenge of the magician/abandonment work.
The first tunnel had the most ice, having to walk on it for most of the second half. Also, because it was earlier morning and had less openings, it was also the darkest. We tried as best to allow our eyes to adjust and not use flashlights when possible. We realized this required us to rely on each other a bit more and be ever more present to make it through without slipping. At times we walked alone in silence at our own pace and sometimes gathered up to share.
The second tunnel was very short and the third was the longest. On either side of the third tunnel was a snow drift we had to climb over. Not difficult, but a wrong move could cause you to slide down the mountain. Because of the length of the tunnel, and that it curved, you couldn’t see the other side, though there were slats on one side of the outer wall which let light in. The length also required embracing a sense of the unknown.
The fourth tunnel had a different energy that everyone felt. To me, it felt heavier, as if I was carrying a weight on me. I saw it as the burden I carried having chosen to withdraw and do my own thing due to the abandonment I felt as a child. I thanked the tunnel before exiting and left the burden inside.
Outside the last tunnel were breathtaking views of Donner Lake. We rested and spoke about what we left behind and what we stepped into. Some brought objects to represent those things.
Back through the tunnels we went, at a slightly quicker pace, deciding to eat lunch outside the short, second tunnel. We talked to other hikers who shared a bit of the area’s history including the building of the tunnels and walls. After packing up our stuff we headed home, and on the way we did a king round speaking to what we were grateful for from the trip. It was amazing time spent together, reclaiming the men we have always been.
I realize you probably can’t do this on a regular basis, and if your IGroup is large, might take more effort, but I offer the possibility of other ways that you can meet, enjoy each other’s company and continue the work all of us men need.
Dennis Goss, NorCal Area Admin
Rites of Passage
“Rites of Passage has mostly disappeared around the world, which is interesting for something that is archetypal and that everybody has some understanding of and inkling towards. It has almost completely disappeared from tribal groups as well. I work with some tribal groups that are trying to reinstitute it and it is extremely difficult to do it in an honest way. What is often missing, when I see people trying to put together a new form of initiation, is the real tradition. They’ll come up with a form, but it won’t have enough root, it won’t have enough anchoring into the ground, and then it won’t have enough resonance or strength to hold what’s happening to the kids.” Michael Meade
In the early 2000s, I started having conversations with people doing Rites of Passage (ROP) work with teens. Spread out in different corners of the world and usually focused on one particular formula for ROP, they were some of the most inspiring conversations I’ve ever had. But after chatting for a while, almost every conversation would usually take one common turn. “You need to talk to so-and-so,” I would say. These brilliant thinkers were completely unaware of ROP practitioners doing work very similar to theirs, sometimes in the same city! They were even less aware of others doing ROP work that was structurally the same, but using different methods. They were buried in their own silos, thinking they were some of the few to hit upon the pressing social need for this work. Invariably I would tell them, “You really should put together a gathering for your colleagues to come together and exchange best practices.” It took a good ten more years for me to realize no one else was going to do it, so I did.
In April of 2012 in Oakland, California, I hosted about 30 founders of different ROP practices from around the world. I called it “The Teens Rites of Passage Summit.” Many of those same people I had conversations with over the years attended, including some of the people quoted in this book. My hope was to found a “clearinghouse” organization to coordinate efforts and disseminate information from all the different ROP organizations worldwide. In 2013 that organization was born.
Frederick Marx, Simha, Vigilant Lion
This intentional turning back
to shake some dust from the threadbare rug
lain across the threshold
between now and then
your offering, the small broken branches
sorrowful and scattered
gathered in the dusk with the tender resolve
to see each splintered piece
as whole and holy
these quavering incantations from below
fire and ash in each declaration
honeyed shadows consumed and
fed by the night sky
to give away is to set free
that old tired belief that you
are somehow lost and broken
Forgotten does not mean forbidden
Sing now with embered breath
the wild chorus of returning home
door flung wide
welcomed and trembling
in unburdened anticipation
Joshua Lowe, Laughing Mutt Twin Heart
Bill Zabor; Our New IGroup Coordinator
I joined a men’s group four years ago after a heart-breaking divorce, moving across the country, and losing all of my social connections and everything I knew. It was devastating, and I felt completely lost. The men’s group reminded me of my old college fraternity; I found camaraderie, support, friendship, and also challenge. I found the will to forget the past and re-build my life, a new love and respect for myself, and the courage to stand up and make difficult decisions. I learned how to be myself, for the first time.
Two years ago, I completed my NWTA, joined MKP and the Nor Cal community. I found dedicated, heartfelt men who encouraged me to step out. I joined several IGroups and did lots of work. I discovered that one of my deepest motivators is my desire to be part of a clan, a group, a tribe, and that I will sacrifice everything and take on any challenge to help my tribe succeed and thrive.
It is this passion that ignites my desire to be IGroup Coordinator for Nor Cal. My desire is to have a vibrant, thriving men’s community here in Nor Cal, where men really connect with each other deeply, and where they find places to heal, to grow, to find their passion, mission, and vision, and step into those in practical ways. My desire is to have IGroups that are vibrant, serving men that have been there a long time, but also giving a place for new men, and men who are hurting, to be supported.
I admit that these are my desires, what I selfishly want, I own them. I am aware that I cannot bring what I want to pass, that it takes the intention, the will, the action of many men in the community who want the same things to bring these things into existence. All I can do is state my passion, and ask, “is there anyone else out there who wants the same thing? If you do, join me, join us, and let’s create something fantastic together.
This month, I am stepping up as the Nor Cal IGroup Coordinator. I’m really excited about taking on this responsibility.
- Promote strong, healthy IGroups and any other form of men’s groups within Nor Cal.
- Assist new men to make connections and find support within existing IGroups, and get the training they need to start new groups.
- Support the creation of active, vibrant communities within Nor Cal.
I recognize that this past year has been challenging for many of us, and I judge that many of us are trying to figure out where we go from here. My immediate goal is to get our IGroups fully functional, so that we have places for the new men who will be graduating from the upcoming NWTA’s. But in this new role, I am discovering an even more immediate goal. I receive 3-5 requests every day from men who want to find a men’s group they can plug into. I need to know what groups are open to receiving new men right now, either graduates or non-graduates, and I need to know this in a binary, “yes or no”, warrior-like way. I am finding that many of the descriptions in MKPconnect are out of date, and/or have a lot of “story” in them, or what is in the check-off boxes doesn’t match the story. If I am not sure, I don’t refer.
Here are some offerings that I believe will help us re-energize our IGroups and our communities:
- Consider attending one of the upcoming in-person GUTS trainings; contact Bill Davies:
- Check MKPConnect for an upcoming PIT, IGFT, UPP, etc., to charge up your skills, either as a person or as a group.
- The New Gold Mining Mission Skill Building Circle, Thursday nights 6-8 p.m.
Here are my requests:
- Does your IGroup actively want to add new men? NWTA graduates and non-graduates? Please let me know and please make sure your MKPconnect listing is up to date. If you need help with that, let me know.
- Is your IGroup is interested in hosting an online IGroup or Open Circle on a periodic basis, again let me know. If you’re curious as to what this means, please ask.
- Is there anything that I or the Area IGroup Council can do to help you get back on track or propel you forward? What do you need?
I appreciate Bob Johnson for his dedication and work in this role this past year, and also want to acknowledge the love and support of all the great men of Nor Cal – Bill Davies, Kelly, Kurt, Reuel, Randall, Gary, Max, Gurudarshan, Jerry, the men of the IGroup Council, and my own IGroup. What a fantastic team of men we have! I love you guys.
Bill Zabor, Dancing Bear
New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) Enrollment; Next Man
Nothing has Changed
Where to begin? As I come out of this prolonged lull in NWTAs, I am constantly reminded how much men want this work.
This past 17 months, there was not one day that didn’t include at least one person who wanted NWTA information, or needed information about or help to find an IGroup or Open Circle, or was checking back to see when NWTAs would start up again. Nothing has changed as far as men needing this work; nothing.
For me, every day is this new place to decide to live in growth, stagnation, or decay. I see and hear from men that are aching to take a step forward; to, at minimum, not stand still or fall backward. I know there is a lot of crap out there about being woke, or enlightened, or soft. This isn’t about any of that. It’s about growth and healing at personal & internal, family, and community levels; it’s about growth.
There are those that resist moving forward; bless them on their journey and hold space for when they want something more. I am talking about people, not just men, who resist the idea that what they believe could possibly be holding them back; that what they believe is the illusion that stifles them.
The NWTA is about shaking up a man’s perspective, his believes, for a time long enough for them to see another possibility…another reality other than the one they may hold as the only possibility. We don’t ask them to fall in line with any reality, in particular, just one outside of the one they are burdening themselves with.
Men need that. That is the work we do. Call it what you want. Paint it any way you want. For me, it is a subtle, agreed-upon, moment in time where we hold a man in a safe place and ask him to look behind the curtain, see what is there, see who or what has been driving their behavior, see the way that plays out, see what can be moving forward.
In the time it took to write this, one man jumped on the waitlist for October 22-24. He probably doesn’t know this, but he is asking us to hold him and help him see behind his curtain. Nothing has changed.
- Sep 10-12, 2021: Donner Mine Camp near Nevada City, CA
- Oct 22-24, 2021; Heartland Collective near Grass Valley, CA
For scholarship, payment, and registration information, see New Warrior Training Adventure.
Randall Maynard, Enrollment Coordinator; firstname.lastname@example.org
My Nervous Breakdown
What Happened & How I’m Recovering
On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, I go to work–I am in a lot of physical pain. It’s also my ninth anniversary with my now ex-wife. I’m not sleeping much at this point. The sleep deprivation is getting to me. I’m woozy and out of it. Something is desperately wrong and I don’t know what it is or how to deal with it. With nowhere else to turn for support, I end up in the emergency room. This is my rock bottom. I’m having a nervous breakdown. The emergency room doc looks at me like I’m nuts, and I am, but not in the way he thinks. They kick me loose with a prescription for Norco (opiates)–I don’t fill it. I don’t know what I had hoped for by going to the emergency room. I think I was hoping they’d knock me out for a couple days, so my body could rest. Not happening.
My somatic therapist begins adamantly telling me ‘you need to get sleep’–that is the top priority. I can hear her and agree, but I’m not able to stop the worry and anxiety in my head overnight. I’m in excruciating pain as well. I can’t sit, stand, or lie down for any length of time without a lot of pain and agitation. My nervous breakdown is expressed through widespread nerve pain throughout my body–head to toe. I’ve never felt this kind of pain before. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I wasn’t getting any support. In large part because I didn’t tell most people what was happening to me.
That was my Tuesday, October 20, 2020. My life changed that day. A lot.
How did I get here? I am a bit of a lunatic. I say that affectionately now that I’m on the recovery side of my nervous breakdown. But, it’s true. I came from a home life that was not functional, I just never quite understood how much it affected me, and in what ways. I’m also an introvert, so I’ve always thought my “insanity” and social quirks were tied to that. The fact that I am an introvert definitely adds some interesting flavors to my life, but it is mostly the result of my survival traits due to being raised in an alcoholic and drug-addicted household that led to my nervous breakdown in October 2020. My rock bottom.
I was born in 1960 on the peninsula of the SF Bay Area. Before any tech boom. This was the ‘60’s–Vietnam War protests, Hells Angels, Summer of Love, the music scene, Black Panthers, Patty Hearst and the SLA, the Zodiac Killer, and lots of drugs and alcohol. I was too young for lots of it in the ‘60’s, but when the ‘70’s hit, I did my part to stretch out the spirit of the ‘60’s the best I could. I’m the youngest of three kids. I have a sister, two and a half years older, and a brother, five years older.
My parents divorced when I was a little over one year old. My dad was an alcoholic. A funny and fun drunk, but a drunk. My mom threw him out. My brother and sister and I were raised by a mix of people as well as by our own wits and survival skills. Following my parent’s divorce, we had Sunday visits from my dad. My dad was drunk most of the time for the visits. Sometimes we never made it out of the driveway because my mom and him would be arguing or she felt he was too drunk. When we did go with my dad, he always had a brown paper bag with a beverage. But, as I said, he was funny, and fun–when he wasn’t passed out. He’d talk to the cows as we drove past, or the toll bridge clerk on the old Dumbarton Bridge. We would try to get him going on the tides, “Low tide, dad.” “What are all the tires doing down there?” And he’d make cracks about it.
Sometimes we didn’t make it to his apartment, we’d end up at the Reno Club. He’d give us a few bucks for liquor store food while he did his thing in the Reno Club. Hotsie-totsies, Slim Jims, gum balls–it was a kid’s delight. Sometimes, that was the visit. Other times we’d make it to his apartment and he’d pass out and we’d go ape shit in his apartment drinking incredibly thick Nestle Quick drinks, throwing darts from outside the apartment and rarely hitting anything but the wall. All good fun for us kids. One of my favorite Sunday visits was when our Dad took us to Haight-Ashbury in the city to check out hippies. I remember picking up empty booze bottles and then seeing and pointing to a hippie, and saying, “Dad, look, there’s a hippie.” The long-haired heavily bearded dude just smiled and pointed back at me. I was six or so. I loved it.
About a year after my mom put a stop to the visits, my dad got sober and remarried and had another family. Despite him living less than 25 miles from us, we didn’t see him much after that. My sister put it best, when she said, “mom divorced dad, and dad divorced us.”
My mom was an alcoholic too. Not a fun one. She seemed intent on living the California dream at the time: free love, parties, and lots of men. She was also well on her way to becoming addicted to valium. One of my lasting memories of childhood was all the pharmacy deliveries we’d get–back then, they delivered, and those guys were coming around all the time dropping off prescriptions. Until my mom’s suicide years later, it had never occurred to me what these prescriptions were for–I was too young, and had my own survival to look after.
My memories of this time period, the mid-late sixties are encapsulated by the PWP parties–Parents Without Partners–my mom hosted. They seemed to be covers for drunken singles pickup parties. Since I was too young to be able to leave the house during these affairs, I witnessed a lot of it. The way the adults changed as the evening wore on–our garage set up for dancing. The lights would be dimmed in the later hours. Men and women would pair off, leaning on each other. Sometimes in our living room chairs. My nightmare was having to go to the bathroom–running the gauntlet of these strange people in our house behaving like–I didn’t know what. I just knew I didn’t feel safe and I had no place else to go. In the mornings when we woke up, the house reeked of stale booze and cigarettes. My brother would take leftover booze. He had started drinking by then, in his early teens. By the time he was 18 or so, I believe he was an alcoholic. And he was a shitty mean drunk. A jackass. He was more disruptive in my life than my mom at that point. I had figured out how to navigate my mom. My brother was a very different experience.
By the time Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in ’69, my mom was regularly telling me I was stoic, and I didn’t show my emotions. And telling all three of us kids, that “If we didn’t behave,” or do our chores, or whatever she wanted, she was “going to have a breakdown and lose the house and we’d have to move to an apartment.” These messages were repeated over and over to me. I took them on and made them my own. My own critical parent became fully developed in my mom’s voice and the message was loud and clear–emotions are NOT ok and are not welcome. Particularly anger. And, “If I don’t work and grind, I will have a breakdown, lose the house and move to an apartment.” As a kid, I didn’t exactly know what this meant other than it was extremely bad. Somehow, I understood, I was partially responsible for us being able to stay in the house, in our neighborhood, where our friends were.
I’m sure this was when I began to be the hyper-responsible lunatic that I am now. It didn’t help that my mom was constantly telling me from around age 12, that I was the “responsible one,” and that I wouldn’t be able to have a life like my friends, instead, “I’d have to work hard, and grind constantly.” I took this in–into my guts. Trauma. More body trauma. For my mom, it boiled down to money anxiety. My mom, a single mother of three, was always stressed and worried about money. Tax time at our house meant, stay clear of mom’s room and get out of the house if possible. And do NOT bug her, for any reason. This was more or less true all the time, but tax time especially.
In 1972 as the Vietnam war dragged on and Nixon was on his way to a landslide victory, I was 11 and I had a morning paper route delivering the San Francisco Chronicle–I’d begun my working career–I had my own money. My grandmother Jessie died. She was significant in our lives as a foundation of calm loving stability. Unconditional love. Her death hit all of us hard and it put more strain on my mom, who not only lost her mom, she lost the support of her mom helping out with us kids.
Later in ‘72, my mom hit my brother during an argument, he left the house. I ran into the bathroom crying as I can feel in my guts the last shreds of any notion of having a family dissolve. This is a turning point. I began thinking of my mom as a roommate instead of someone who looked after me. Finally, on Xmas eve in ’72, my mom, and us kids went out to dinner. Upon return, we realized something was off. We were robbed. It was scary. To this day I can still hear the ‘howl’ of my mom crying out when she realized her jewelry, the family heirlooms, were taken. I felt this in my core. We were not safe. It turned out the jewelry and a pound of pot taken from my brother’s room were the only material things stolen. My already shaky sense of safety and security was gone too, but that wouldn’t be in the police report. I later learn from my brother he may have known who robbed us on that Xmas eve night, but for his own safety couldn’t do anything about it.
I believe this was the final piece for me, from this point on, I fend for myself. My ability to fend for myself was pretty strong by this time. I moved into our garage so I had my own entrance, and I had my own money from my paper route. I figured my way would be at least as good as my mom’s. What did she know?
This is where I came from. This was my foundation for life. This is where I came to believe I was not safe–life was not safe. I took on my mom’s money anxiety. I stopped trusting people. I stuffed my feelings. And I would learn through many failed relationships and two marriages that my fear of abandonment was so strong, I easily fell into co-dependence, particularly in my intimate relationships with women in hopes they wouldn’t fail. It never worked.
Much later, I would learn these are all common traits of people who grow up in dysfunctional alcoholic (and or drugged addicted) families.
Hitting Rock Bottom
I met my second wife in 2008 and we married in October of 2011. All was well for a short time, then she had a stroke in June 2012. Our communication wasn’t the healthiest before the stroke and only got worse after. I felt like I somehow needed to make things better for my wife, but didn’t know how. She didn’t tell me what she was truly experiencing because she didn’t want to be a burden on me. We’re both products of chaotic alcoholic families, and we both were living deeply in our learned survival traits. It was a mess, and we really had no chance. Due to my grinding survival nature, my hyper responsibility, and my fully developed fear of abandonment, my mind was set on suffering through. Thankfully, my wife pulled the plug. In March of 2019, she moved out of the house, “to see if we had a chance.” We did not. In January of 2020, for a variety of reasons, my wife moved back into the house. We agreed to live as roommates while I figured out where I was going to move. By then, we had looked into divorce, and after each of us consulted with lawyers, it was clear, I would lose my part of the house. California Divorce law and her stroke skewed the financial outcome of our split heavily in her favor.
Then, COVID hit.
Initially, when COVID first hit and MKP IGroups all went to Zoom, I was very resistant. I was already having to do enough video conference calls at work, so I was not into finishing it off with 3 more hours of Zoom. Groan. This would prove to be a mistake. I lost a significant part of my support network at a particularly crucial time of need.
In August of 2020, I fulfilled my childhood nightmare. I lost my house and moved to an apartment. Despite the fact my apartment was only 2 miles away, it was a night and day difference for me. Recall, the line from my mom’s threats, “We’ll lose the house and have to move to an apartment.” That’s exactly what I had done. I lost my home and I moved to an apartment. Stress and anxiety were building.
My nervous breakdown was coming. At the same time, I was having burning nerve pain in my hips. I misinterpreted the pain as something tied to “old back and hip issues I’ve had for years.” I was seeing a physical therapist who was validating my thinking and making the symptoms fit his way of seeing things. Meanwhile, my somatic therapist was getting more and more concerned to the point where she encouraged me to ask my doctor for some kind of anti-anxiety med to help calm me and my nerves down. My doctor complied with Lexapro and a drug called Gabapentin for the nerve pain and to help with sleep. This freaked me out–my mom had basically killed herself with meds and now I’m on them! And, I’m sensitive to medicines as I almost never take them.
I was in touch with my sister by then. She was helping. Giving me support. I felt shame for having to take meds because I “should” be able to grind through this. I was a survivor; I was good at surviving. About this time, out of desperation, I finally overrode my isolationist ways and I reached out to the men of my local IGroup and asked for what I needed: An in-person circle to support me in my extreme grief and anxiety. Seven men showed up to support me. We gathered outside at the Morro Rock beach (on the jetty side–socially distanced). This showing of support brought me to tears–and I shed many more tears of grief that evening. This support circle helped kick-start our circle to meet in-person again. Unfortunately, I would only be able to attend two more circles in 2020 before I hit rock bottom.
As August passed into September, my anxiety about finances continued to increase–it was all rooted in my childhood fear, and a deep-seated sense of a lack of safety. As my money anxiety became louder in my head, and I was grieving my lost marriage and fucked up life, my nerve pain began spreading to places that didn’t make sense with my hip/back story. Nevertheless, my physical therapist was undeterred, and drove on, giving me things to do even though I was telling him we were not on the right track. A few days later my nerve pain spread up into my back and down into my feet. I was feeling it in my elbows, wrists and hands, but accepting my physical therapist’s thinking, I wrote that off to ergonomic issues with my computer set-up. Wrong again.
It’s October now. My stress and anxiety continue to build. I’m losing a lot of sleep and the Gabapentin mostly makes me dizzy and out of it. I am panicking and with no way to make sense of this, I blame Lexapro for the spread. My doctor, who I can only reach through his medical assistant via email with a two- to three-day lag, is telling me, and I paraphrase here, “You’re nuts! I’m trying to help you, but you’re not listening.” On my end, I’m yelling through email that he is NOT hearing me.
My somatic therapist is telling me it is psychosomatic–brain pain. My body is actually protecting me from something it deems worse. Probably extreme anxiety. This makes sense, but I still don’t know what to do. My money anxiety is shooting through the roof, as I’m wondering what the fuck is happening to me, and will I live through it? And can I afford to live through it? Will I end up homeless? Fear and anxiety are running my life now.
On Tuesday, October 20th, 2020, I hit rock bottom. The sleep deprivation is getting to me. My somatic therapist begins adamantly telling me “you need to get sleep”–that is the top priority. I can hear her and agree, but I’m not able to stop the worry and anxiety in my head overnight. I’m in excruciating pain as well. I can’t sit, stand, lie down for any length of time without a lot of pain and agitation.
If there was a gun in my apartment, I would have considered suicide. I had never felt that kind of pain before. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I had completely lost my perspective. In large part because I wasn’t sleeping and I wasn’t getting any support. The sleep was challenging, but the lack of support was mainly because I didn’t tell most people what was happening to me. I was isolating again–another trait of being raised in an alcoholic family.
Surrender & Support
At this point, I can only surrender–to it all. I’m fried, I feel abandoned by the doctors. Thankfully, my somatic therapist is checking in with me each day–she is worried about me. There nothing else I can do. I let go.
I had a Nervous Breakdown. Everything in my life stopped. All activities, work, everything. It took all my courage to ask a friend to bring me some groceries. It brought tears when he shared it was a gift for him to help. As much as I’ve helped friends and family and others, I had never considered it might apply to me too.
I begin journaling–it’s really all I could do. It became an anchor of sorts. I began seeing things that I hadn’t acknowledged before. Like how much anger I’d stuffed in my life, including around my failed marriage. Through the journaling, I realized just how much time and energy I put into worrying about my safety–I texted my sister about this. And she could relate–and she pointed me to the 12-step program, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA).
In early November 2020, I went to my first ACA meeting (Zoom)–by the end of the month, I was going to six meetings a week, and had found a sponsor. This was the lifeline I needed. The ACA words were speaking to me. I felt safe. I was an ACA kid. Since then, I’ve continued working the 12-steps and attending meetings, including a mixed 12-step program Zoom meeting where I’ve heard many moving and incredible stories and shares about recovery. The mixed meeting gave me the gift of seeing what it might’ve looked like had my parents got sober and went into a healthy recovery–for that I’m grateful.
Several MKP men were texting or emailing. One man brought me homemade soup on three occasions–I had never truly understood how supportive it is to bring people food when they are in a crisis like I was. Or simply check in and ask, “how are you doing?” This was profound for me and helped me begin my healing process.
By mid-December, I had embraced my situation–I was on leave from work. My life was 100% about self-care and self-love, healing, recovery. I educated myself on pain, and the mind-body connection. I learned how important sleep is–it is easily the most important thing you can do for your human well-being and health. It’s not close. Without good sleep, the human body cannot heal.
As I continued to work the ACA program, I realized how much anger, grief, and sadness I had stored in my body. Trauma. PTSD. I’ve made great progress, and it is still “one day at a time.” My processing happens in waves–in doses my nervous system can handle.
I re-engaged with my local IGroup in January 2021. After sharing my experience, I found other men who were engaged in 12-step programs. More support. Working the 12-steps has been incredibly meaningful and worthwhile for me. The ACA mantra is ‘it is simple, but not easy.’ I agree. And it has been a huge gift. This whole experience has been a gift. I surely would not choose a nervous breakdown again, AND, I’ve been given this chance to truly heal my mind, body, and soul in a way that I would not otherwise have been able to do. I’m grateful.
MKP is a great resource for men. And, sometimes, some of us need more specific help as well. In my case, it was ACA. This was my lifeline. These are my people–people who can relate to my experiences, to my traits and behaviors that came from being raised in a chaotic alcoholic home. All of the 12-steps are huge and important, but for me the biggest (at least right now) is Step Nine. In particular, making amends to myself. When I have the grace, my daily amends to myself are to stay present and tuned into my breath–to feel my feelings and notice if my inner world is congruent with the outer. From that place, I can respond rather than react. This is my healing work. I also consciously let myself know that I love and accept myself exactly as I am–moment by moment, day by day.
It is so interesting to me, I’m so good at the survival skills I learned as a kid, I kept right on surviving for the next 50+ years. And as it all came to a head last year through the nerve pain, anxiety and panic, even with all of that, my brain still wasn’t smart enough to stop or slow down or change things, so my body, my somatic wisdom stepped in and put a stop to it all–everything.
My healing and recovery are all about loving and listening to my somatic wisdom (my body), my loving parent (opposite of the critical voice), my inner child (play, joy, fun!), and my higher power (god as I understand god).
I’m still on leave from work, but I am healing. I am recovering. I am re-engaging in life in a new way. As I said above, I wouldn’t choose this, yet it has become a gift for me. I’m grateful for MKP and the ACA program and all the people who have and are supporting me.
One day at a time. Breathe. Feeling my feelings. Breathe. Stay present. Breathe. Respond rather than react. Breathe. Discernment of the things I can and cannot control. Breathe. My life goes better this way.
If you are interested in ACA, you can find more information including free literature and meetings in your area and or on Zoom by going to the ACA website @ www.adultchildren.org. I currently host a men’s only Zoom meeting Wednesday’s @ 11:30 a.m., Pacific time. Zoom ID is 805 888 1234; no password needed.
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